suggested spiritual practices
These nature-oriented spiritual practices can be done on your own or in a group. As you try them, don't worry if you don't live close to a wild area. Your backyard or an urban park will do just fine. A houseplant, a worm crawling on the sidewalk, even a pesky fly can offer spiritual inspiration.
Choose one meal a day (or more) to eat without any distractions (phone, t.v., computer, etc.) Before beginning to eat, breathe deeply for a few minutes, look at the meal laid out before you, and thank the Source of all life for this provision. Then with each bite, thank something/someone else who has helped to bring you this food.
With your first bite, you might start with thanking the earth itself. Then with the next, you might thank the soil, then the minerals, the water, the seeds, the plants and of course the animals, if you are eating meat. With each bite, give thanks to another element. Remember the human beings who helped as well – the farm worker, the truck driver, the seller at the farmers market, the grocery stock-person, etc.
Slowly chew each bite, savor the tastes and texture. Put your fork down between bites. At the end of the meal, breathe deeply again and say thank you to all of the natural elements, creatures, people and enlivening Spirit that have brought this meal to you.
AWAKE TO THE WORLD
Take 5 minutes just as you are waking to set your intention for the day. You might say to yourself: "Today, I will be awake to the world." Repeat as a mantra, breathing into each word.
Take this intention into your day. What aspects of nature do you notice? What is attracting you? Is Spirit present?
During the course of the day, as you find yourself becoming distracted by the busyness of life, repeat as necessary: "Today, I will be awake to the world." You might set a reminder to do this hourly OR set up a trigger, such as, every time you look at your phone, you repeat the mantra.
At night, as you fall asleep, you might reflect on what you noticed during the day in your awakened state.
A good way to connect with nature and Spirit is to keep a spiritual nature journal and record in it each time you explore outside. Start each entry by noting the date and time and any human creatures who are with you. Then, note the physical weather – temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, humidity – as well as your emotional and spiritual “weather” – mood, distractions, challenges, questions.
Each time you see an element of nature, such as a bird, frog, turtle, plant, tree, etc. make a note of it. You might use symbols for different kinds of animals, birds, plants and trees and construct tables to organize what you see. If something attracts your eye, take time to describe it in your journal. Record, too, what spiritual insights you might be gleaning along the way.
You might try your hand at drawing things that catch your eye. No matter how inexperienced you might be, art “draws” you into an intimate connection and helps you notice things you might not have otherwise. Use colored pencils and watercolors as you’d like.
As the weeks, months and years go by, you might enjoy looking back at your journals to see what was going on both around you and inside of you at a given time.
Before entering into any spiritual practice it is useful to first engage in a brief centering practice, which enables us to put our everyday thoughts, feelings, and activities to one side, and come to a place of inner quietude. Although the suggested practices which follow will each in themselves bring us to a more centered place, by orienting ourselves internally before we begin working with them, we allow for a deeper level of engagement and experience.
Start by taking a few deep breaths, then close your eyes. Slowly scan through your body, identifying any tension, tightness or pain. Do a brief check in with your mood. Are you happy, anxious, fearful, neutral? Breathe in and out slowly and methodically, paying close attention to the breath itself. Feel it come into your nose and see if you can follow it as it moves through your body all the way through exhalation. If you are outside, nature has its own rhythm and its own breath. Can you match your breath to the breath of nature? Can you feel the oxygen being created for you by the trees around you?
Continue this practice for around 5 minutes or for whatever time you have. Slowly open your eyes and return to the physical world. This centering practice can be used in conjunction with any of the suggested practices below or as a way to step back into a mindful place during the course of your day.
Wander slowly in a natural place (your backyard or an urban park will do). Following the ancient practice of Lectio Divina, where a sacred text is read slowly until a word or phrase resonates with you, scan the natural area carefully until an element of nature attracts you. Move closer to that aspect of nature. Study it carefully. Be curious about it. Use all your senses to explore it. What does it sound like? How does it smell? What is its texture? Befriend it.
You might ask this element of nature: what can you teach me? Or, if you are more comfortable, ask God: what are you revealing to me? Is there an insight you might glean from this new friend? Don’t force it or overthink it. Just let it all happen as it will.
LECTIO DIVINA IN NATURE
Walk outside your door and find an area that is unpaved (could be your yard, a park, anywhere convenient). Toss a pebble or anything small and round to the ground. Around the pebble draw an actual (or imaginary) circle about 2 feet in diameter.
Take some time each day for one week (if only for a few minutes) to observe what’s going on inside this circle. What’s living there? What supports life? What kind of colors do you see? How does it smell? Does it change throughout the week? Get down on your knees and take a good close look. Pick up the soil and feel it in your fingers. Then look at it from a distance. Does your perspective change?
Is Spirit present in your little circle? Is this sacred ground?
ALL OUR SENSES
Walk outside and find a natural spot. Engage this place with one sense at a time (sight, hearing, touch, smell and maybe taste (but please be careful with this one!)).
Try to “turn off” the other senses (you can use blindfolds, earplugs, etc. if you’d like) and concentrate on experiencing your nature spot from one focused perspective. Breathe slowly through this exercise.
You might use a mantra if it is helpful – "Let me see you. Let me hear you, etc." You might also ask of this place (or God/Spirit through this place), “What am I to learn from you?”
This is a great exercise to stop and do while you are hiking.
Go into your backyard or to a local natural spot and explore it as you would if you were visiting a new place. With fresh eyes and great curiosity, see what is special about your backyard. What is beautiful and interesting? What other creatures and critters share this land with you and make their home there? Use local field guides and nature apps to identify the names of the trees, plants, birds and other creatures. Get to know your “neighbors.”
Go into places you don’t usually go. Look up. Look down. Look under things. Crawl around on the ground. Take a magnifying glass and look at something small and interesting. Think about your backyard as sacred land. Reflect on how Spirit makes its presence known here.
FOLLOWING THE SUN
This is a very simple, but powerful exercise. Each morning, as you get out of bed, greet the sun and note where the sun is coming up inside your house. (Even if it’s cloudy, the sun is coming up somewhere!) In which window does it come in? Has it moved since the day before? How about in a week, a month, several months? How far will it go in one direction until it turns back the other way at either solstice.
You might repeat these words from the book of Genesis: “God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was.” Light is a powerful spiritual image in many different religious traditions. It provides energy to empower ecological systems and provides warmth, without which we couldn’t survive.
This is an easy and simple way to orient us to seasonal movement. It reminds us that change is constant, and there is much that lies outside of our own control. And the sun’s consistent and reliable path might provide reassurance and comfort in the midst of change.
Find a place near your home to “adopt” as your sacred place over a period of time, perhaps for Lent, or a season, or even a year if you’re up to it. Visit it as often as you can and be curious about it. What and who lives there? What natural processes do you see at play? Is there water visible? Is there evidence of creaturely activity even if you don’t see anything? Is your sacred place threatened in some way by human or non-human activity?
How does it change over the time you are visiting? You might use some of the techniques described in the above practices, like All Your Senses, to explore fully this place. Consider whether, over time, you are getting to know your special place. Does it become home? Is it indeed sacred and what does that mean to you? Is God/Spirit present here? Explore what it might teach you. Ask what it needs, too.
Find a natural area and slowly search for some aspect of nature that is in pain, decaying, dying or being degraded. Don’t force this; just let something reach out to you.
Once you find your spot, spend some time here paying attention to what is going on. You might use some of the other spiritual practices to deepen your experience. You might then say: "I am here with you.”
See what develops. Breathe with your chosen element. You might ask: "What is it like to be you?" Then listen for response.
This can be a challenging exercise; hold this practice lightly. In nature, pain, suffering, decay and death are all present and play important roles in the health of the ecosystem.
Find something in the natural world that is full of life -- growing, blooming or budding. Draw closer to it. Center yourself by being with this element of nature. Breathe slowly. Examine it with curiosity and openness.
Reflect on how its life has been made possible by change, decay, deterioration or death. What has contributed to its life that is no longer present? You might consider the soil, other creatures -- large and small, seen and unseen.
Are there parallels you might draw to your own spiritual life? Has there been loss or decline that is giving way to renewal or rebirth? How can you open yourself to this movement?